Public Law and Policy > U.S. Territories and Freely Associated States

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP has substantial experience providing advice and representation related to insular areas affiliated with the United States. This includes the three Freely Associated States (Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia and Republic of Palau) (FAS) as well as the five United States territories (Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands).

These jurisdictions have unique relationships with the United States. Their complex governing arrangements are inherently tied to the U.S. political system. Yet insular governments lack meaningful representation within that system. Akin Gump provides a missing voice.

The firm plays a leadership role in enacting laws and advancing policies that enhance the federal treatment of the insular areas. Our lawyers and advisors know from experience the numerous ways in which the areas can be treated inequitably or forgotten in federal law. We anticipate these problems and often address them preemptively. We have also successfully advanced legislative strategies to change U.S. laws and regulations that negatively impact the areas.

Insular priorities cross myriad federal policy areas including homeland security, federal funding, health programs, tax, trade and nutrition assistance. Akin Gump’s informed blend of political sophistication and broad legal experience has resulted in notable accomplishments in each of these issue areas before Congress, the executive branch and the courts. Our guidance to clients doing business in the U.S.-affiliated insular areas informs their business decisions.

Our frequent informal discussions with national leaders expand the foundation of understanding by key U.S. decision-makers about the importance of the FAS and U.S. territories. This enhanced understanding ultimately results in better treatment of U.S. affiliated insular areas under federal law.

Freely Associated States

The Compacts of Free Association (COFA) that the United States signed with the FAS established an unprecedented diplomatic relationship, creating partnerships with sovereign nations that span all areas of governance. The unique nature of the U.S.-FAS relationships creates complex legal challenges for which Akin Gump is especially well qualified.

The strategic importance of the FAS to the United States and the growing number of FAS citizens living within the United States are key issues in which our lawyers and advisors are well versed. We have successfully leveraged these strengths to improve the treatment of the FAS under federal law, most notably through the enactment of the REAL ID Act Modification of Freely Associated States Act of 2018.

Compact funding is critically important to the FAS, and we know how to navigate the federal appropriations process to maximize financial resources provided by the United States. In 2019, our legislative team successfully obtained several millions of dollars of U.S. assistance recognized by the U.S. government as owed yet withheld for over several decades. Akin Gump lobbyists have teamed up with our nationally renowned appellate litigation practice in a pro bono representation urging the United States to remedy the legacy of U.S. nuclear testing in Bikini Atoll of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, a fight that continues today and spans healthcare, environmental and energy concerns.Our representations benefit from the input of Akin Gump lawyers with regulatory knowledge on a number of issues inherent in the Compacts, notably immigration, energy, defense, healthcare, education, government contracts, transportation and infrastructure and climate change.

The upcoming COFA expiration and related renegotiations will require a rare combination of institutional knowledge, legal experience and political savvy that Akin Gump possesses. Our lawyers and advisors have been involved in previous COFA negotiations from many vantage points within and outside of the U.S. government. This experience, knowledge, and our deep and broad political footprint truly sets Akin Gump apart.

U.S. Territories

Through our extensive work on behalf of private entities and civic organizations in Puerto Rico, Akin Gump has acquired substantive experience, a sophisticated understanding of Puerto Rican political dynamics, and a deep appreciation of the legal challenges facing all U.S. territories. We bring together a complete and fully integrated set of services:

  • Government contracts lawyers draw from a wide range of resources and technical experience to represent clients in all aspects of government procurement, grants and cooperative agreements on the federal, state, territorial and local levels, including grants from the Federal Emergency Management Administration.
  • Infrastructure and transportation lawyers engage in complex projects by diffusing political risk, aligning the interests of diverse stakeholders, resolving regulatory hurdles, creating innovative financing structures, and helping clients maximize their opportunities while avoiding unnecessary complications and delays. 
  • Our tax team navigates the often complex application of federal tax law to U.S. territories, analyzing the impact of federal proposals on individuals and corporations.

In addition, our highly regarded appellate litigation lawyers have experience in drafting amicus briefs and congressional testimony on constitutional and other matters related to Puerto Rico’s political status. Most recently, members of the practice filed a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of current and former senior Puerto Rico officials—including governors, resident commissioners, attorneys general and legislative leaders—in a case raising whether Puerto Rico is a separate sovereign from the federal government for purposes of the Double Jeopardy Clause. Our appellate lawyers also regularly advise clients on a wide range of legal matters that arise out of the unique relationships between the United States and its territories and the FAS.

With respect to federal law and policy, the lack of territorial voting representation in the U.S. House of Representatives and absence of U.S. senators from the territories poses a risk in the legislative process. We have knowledge in the nuances of territorial law and politics as well as a deep appreciation of the disadvantages of a territorial status, often creating strong coalitions within a small community of like-minded interests.

We have advanced territorial client interests before the House Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the primary committees of jurisdiction. Our depth and breadth of knowledge concerning tax, health care, bankruptcy law, disaster relief and other areas further enable us to impact territorial treatment before committees of wider jurisdiction, such as House and Senate Appropriations, Senate Finance, House Ways and Means, and House Energy and Commerce.

Akin Gump is proud of our preeminent territories practice and the targeted, high-level strategies we advance to overcome obstacles territories face under federal law. Our efforts have led to enhanced federal funding, more favorable legal treatment of the U.S. territories and numerous related policy recommendations in influential federal reports.